Xiomara Acevedo is a young Colombian, founder of Barranquilla+20 created 9 years ago. The coastal city of Barranquilla in Colombia is the place where the waters of the Magdalena river, the largest watershed in Colombia, meet the Caribbean sea and form a ciénaga or a swamp. This rich estuary is the home of mangroves, migratory birds and important biodiverse wildlife. With a passion that is visible in her eyes and smile, she tells me how protecting wetlands in this region of the Atlantic coast was her calling since she was a child.
Unfortunately this key ecosystem is threatened by urban development and largely polluted by the waters of the Magdalena river, which carry the pollution of a large part of the country. In a place where a lot of economical and sociopolitical interests converge, protecting these mangroves is an incredible challenge that has put Xiomara and their team fearing for their lives. Xiomara has seen the local and government authorities ignore the need for a proper urban planning that includes sturdy environmental assessment plans, the inclusion of environmental economical plans, and proper disposal and treatment of waters not only in the city, but country wide. Xiomara would like to see transparency in the urban development plans and open dialogues with the communities that live in the wetland to ensure a just and equitable development.
In a true community and local scale effort, the team of Barranquilla+20 gained the trust of the people who live in the mangrove swamp called Ciénaga del Mallorquín, by talking with them about their needs, and understanding their struggles. Ciénaga del Mallorquín is a wetland complex that is connected to the larger Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, a Ramsar Site. They organized educational programs for kids and their families to raise awareness of the importance of the swamp and empower the community, clean up days to reduce pollution in the area, and mangrove planting days. Currently Barranquilla+20 is training the future mangrove and ocean guardians in a project called Guardianes de Bocas de Ceniza. They are training ten kids from the local community of Bocas de Ceniza about the mangrove, the importance of the species that live there, and the importance of keeping those ecosystems free of pollution.
What Xiomara wants for the next 50 years of the Convention on Wetlands is for the Convention to reflect intergenerational equity at the core of wetland protection and inspire future generations to value wetlands through their socio ecological and cultural connection. The Convention has been innovative since its beginning, and needs to continue to be so for the next 50 years. More global partnerships are needed to safeguard wetlands as one of the most relevant ecosystems for humans in a changing climate context.
Story by María Elisa Sánchez